Corporations are idiots!!!

Everybody has his/her own reason for using Free Software.  Unfortunately, my favorite reason seems to be among the most “FUDed” by proprietary software companies.  (Behind “Lowering the TCO”)  I personally believe the most important aspect of Free Software is the advancement of society.

Proprietary software companies in power today will probably tell you just the opposite.  “Society can never advance without proprietary software,” they say.  “Nobody would pay developers to write the software if money could not be earned directly from its sale.”  I could go into how companies have managed to get rich by doing exactly that, but I won’t.  Instead, think of it this way.  The cost to develop the software is actually very low.  Take a look at any company you want.  You will see that the actual programmers make up a very very small percentage of the staff.  Most companies don’t release enough data about this kind of thing to actually make that well known.  I sure wish I could reveal what percentage of a certain proprietary software company’s staff are developers. (cough Infinite Campus cough)  I have, however, been inside the headquarters for a small to medium sized publicly traded proprietary software company.  I can assure you that the support team, a group of 4-6 people sitting in a cubical room, was about the same size, if not a little bigger, than the team of developers in the development cubical.  The other 85% of the company went to managing everything.  I wish I had the exact numbers, but I don’t.  I can assure you it made the developers themselves seem irrelevant, which they may have been.  I would be willing to bet that the rest of that team could sell you the next version of that flagship piece of software with no technical changes whatsoever.  In fact, I could almost guarantee it.

My point is  that very little money actually goes to funding development.  The money you spend on proprietary software is used, mainly, to try to get you to buy the update in the future.  There are plenty of people in the Free Software world that could get you to use and/or donate to a certain project.  Just do a Google search on “Best Open Source Applications” and see how many you get.  People promote their favorite Free Software applications because they think they are great, and that enough people don’t know about them.  To properly understand the quantity of promotion that goes on, do a search under “‘you should use firefox’” (in quotes).  At the time of writing, 16,900 results are returned!  Even the phrase “‘I hate george bush’” (in quotes) returns less than half the number of results from the former search.  Remember, though, that this is only one way of saying you advocate for a single piece of Free Software.  (Wording it as “‘I love firefox’” in quotes returns 206,000 results at the time of writing.)  The marketing expense that costs proprietary software companies so much money is annihilated.  Packaging is gone as well, with prepackaged versions only generating additional income.  If the only thing that was paid for was the programming and packaging cost, Microsoft Office would most likely be under $20.

The problem is that companies are sticking to old-world techniques, partially because the government is allowing them to do so.  Companies are treating their software as if it is a commodity.  They have yet to take advantage of the efficiency that can be achieved now.  While using these old methods, society will never advance.  Instead of everyone working on developing similar applications, they keep reinventing the wheel.  According to Michael Tiemann, Red Hat Vice President, the world loses over $1 trillion ever year due to proprietary software.  When you think about it, though, this is not that big of a number.  Think of any software industry.  They all have two or more big proprietary “overlords” that do essentially the same thing, with several other less powerful proprietary alternatives which are often either more lightweight or add some significant feature.  Take the media player market for instance.  iTunes/Quicktime, Windows Media Player, and Real Player dominate this market.  Other than support for various format and services, these players differ very little.  They all just reinvented the wheel.

Had all of the money these media player developers received from their products been used to develop the software, it may be a different story.  Instead, though, a huge amount of money goes into the costs associated with competing against one another.  On top of those costs, of course, we have the cost of actually programming the nearly identical application.

There is another problem with their theory, though.  They call what they are doing “advancing society’s technology” to give their employees a warm fuzzy feeling that they are actually doing something for the benefit of the general public.  I suppose it is kind-of sort-of possible to confuse the advancement of technology with developing proprietary software, but the two are so different!

Think of it this way.  Lets say we figure out how to send things back in time.  We send a modern high powered computer back to the year 1900 (along with a “using computers for dummies” book for the sake of this example).  This would, in many ways, be like the proprietary software we have in society today.  The people that received the computer would have access to something that does wonderful things.  It would not, in any way shape or form however, advance their technology.  The people would hail it as a miracle, and be able to do a few useful things with it.  No matter what happened, these people would never really figure out how that computer worked.  Without the skills and equipment to create it, those people would never be able to actually create another computer like that.  When the cheap hard drive died, everyone would be back in the same position they were in before it was invented.

How about we magically solve this problem?  Instead of sending just one computer back in time, lets send 1 million of the most high powered desktop computer we have today.  Wouldn’t that work?  In reality, this may have a negative effect.  With such a high quantity of computers available, people would see no need for developing the technology.  No early computer would have ever existed, because what would be the point of something like ENIAC, especially with so many higher powered computers available?  Without these groundbreaking discoveries, related inventions would have never happened either, because the required technology would have never been developed and fully understood.  The communication age would never have taken place.  In addition, when the last of those million computers finally died, the world would be left with less than it started with.  Do you really think “computing machines” would continue to be developed after so many years of living with their extremely high powered descendants?

Proprietary Software works exactly the same way.  When we use proprietary software, our lives are being dictated by a corporation.  We are not able to build on what has been created by those companies just because they believe it will make them a little bit of extra money.  We are not able to study and understand was has been created for the same reason.  What is money worth?  Obviously quite a bit to some people.  The other less obvious thing that it gives that company is power.  With the computer time-travel example above, imagine what would happen if all of those computers were put in a large locked warehouse, and only one person was given the key?  It would give that person power.  More power than he/she would know what to do with.  It would give him/her the amount of power that proprietary software companies have today.

To get to the point, am I advocating for socialism?  No.  I am saying that proprietary software corporations are idiots.  In American history, it was the goal of progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt to limit the power of corporations by making it wise for them to serve the public.  The same must be done in today’s society.  No government has managed to achieve this yet, and I’m not holding out much hope that it will ever happen.  Therefore, we must take it upon ourselves to use only Free Software, and convince everybody possible of its importance.  Once the general public understands, companies will adapt to society with no government intervention necessary.  We already have a gigantic web of software that is, in many cases, better than its proprietary counterparts.  It is not enough, though.  The mass of proprietary software is bigger.  To stand a chance, it’s going to take some elbow grease.

P.S. – Please keep in mind that not all corporations are guilty of the above charges; however, the vast majority are at fault.

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 10:27 am  Comments (12)  

12 Comments

  1. RMS makes the point that many software developers make their living from developing custom software, rather than being part of a giant propriety software making machine (as a refutation of “but how will developers make money?”).

  2. […] Corporations are idiots!!! Proprietary software companies in power today will probably tell you just the opposite. “Society can never advance without proprietary software,” they say. “Nobody would pay developers to write the software if money could not be earned directly from its sale.” I could go into how companies have managed to get rich by doing exactly that, but I won’t. Instead, think of it this way. The cost to develop the software is actually very low. Take a look at any company you want. You will see that the actual programmers make up a very very small percentage of the staff. Most companies don’t release enough data about this kind of thing to actually make that well known. […]

  3. tht’s right !!

  4. First of all, it is not the governments place to control the markets. That’s not socialism, it’s Fascism. Both are dangerous, and both are to be avoided at all costs if one really wants a free society. One cannot forget that the fundamental freedoms we enjoy INCLUDE the freedoms to fail, be wrong, act like a moron, be greedy, etc… The day those freedoms are gone is the day all freedoms are gone. You cannot have only the freedom to do good, for it is by definition NOT FREE! I cannot overemphasise this point.

    If you want to change things, then it should be you who does the changing, not the government. If you really want to change the way software is made, you can’t just focus on the consumers. The majority of consumers consume products because said products make their lives easier, not because said products fit into their ideology. You have to also focus on the producer. The producer can change things a lot faster than the consumer. It will take an effort on both fronts if you want to start freeing up software.

    • But Caleb… the government is controlling the markets. What do you think copyright does? Advocating for more reasonable copyright is not asking the government to tighten control, but to loosen control.

      • Sorry I didn’t get back to this sooner. Copyrights exist in order to protect private property. The ownership of private property is a fundamental right under the constitution. This means that copyrights are enforced in order to insure personal freedom, not limit it. Copyrights are not evil. They are essentially guarding against theft.

        It’s worth noting that without the copyright/patent system we have, it’s likely that we wouldn’t have the technology we do. The copyright/patent system stimulated technological growth by allowing inventors to make money off of their own inventions. If patents/copyrights were not enforced, inventors would not have had much of a reason to make technological progress simply because their inventions could easily be taken by someone with the resources to put the product into production faster. Without patent laws, early American industry would have been far more cut-throat than it was/is now.

  5. Caleb,

    Thanks for the response. There are a ton of problems with it though.

    “Copyrights exist in order to protect private property.”

    Absolutely false. Copyright doesn’t cover private property. It covers the expression of an idea. A copyright is not property; it’s a government granted monopoly on certain uses related to your expression of an idea.

    If copyright is about protecting private property, how do you account for fair use or the public domain?

    Copyright infringement is not theft in any sense of the word. It’s copyright infringement.

    (Note: I’m not saying copyright is evil, or even bad, or that copyright infringement isn’t illegal — just that this is not about property or theft.)

    “The ownership of private property is a fundamental right under the constitution.”

    The section of the US constitution that allows for copyright law has nothing to do with private property: Congress shall have the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

    “This means that copyrights are enforced in order to insure personal freedom, not limit it.”

    Copyright is not about ensuring personal freedom. It’s about promoting the progress of science and the useful arts by offering economic incentives to authors and inventors so that they create works, for the good of society.

    Copyright used to only regulate a few people, mostly large companies (publishers, radio stations). Now everyone with a computer intersects with them daily. That’s how it can negatively affect personal freedom.

    “It’s worth noting that without the copyright/patent system we have, it’s likely that we wouldn’t have the technology we do.”

    I don’t believe that at all. Yes, there are proprietary companies that innovate, but it’s not at all true that copyright or patents is a necessary incentive for innovation.

    Did the Internet come about because of copyright or patent law?

    Have you actually looked at the effects of patents on innovation? (Some examples.) Software patents are particularly bad because software is essentially functional math.

    Also, patents tend to encourage invention at the expense of innovation.

    I don’t believe for a second that copyright or patent law is necessary for innovation. There are reasons why such exclusive rights might encourage innovation, but there are also reasons why it can discourage innovation.

    I think there’s good reason to re-examine what’s worked in the past to see whether or not it continues to work today. Considering that the internet is a giant copying machine, I’m skeptical that copyright law ought to work in the same way today as it did in early American industries.

  6. Firstly, it’s historical fact that copyright laws have caused an influx of inventive, scientific minds to the United States. Without said minds, it is impossible to know what may or may not have been invented in the past. As many inventions and developments are themselves reliant on previous inventions and developments, it is indeed very likely that copyright laws are, to some degree, responsible for inventions such as the internet.

    Copyrights protect intellectual property. If I write a paper, and then you copy the paper for your own purposes without giving due credit, you are committing theft. Said theft may not damage me in any way, but it is none-the-less theft. That is under standard copyright applied to pretty much any text-based media you will find. Of course, authors also have the right to further protect their content. Is code really so different? You are correct to say that computer code is essentially just math. I should know, as I am a programming myself. However, a work of literary art is nothing more or less than a combination of fundamental letters and characters. This is not very different than computer code, which is nothing more or less than a combination of fundamental logical statements and mathematical operations. I doubt that you would say a novelist has no right to protect his literary work. After all, he created it and should therefore have the right to control its use.

    Used fairly, copyrights do little more than protect intellectual property. Open source software makes extensive use of copyrights. You’ll note that, on many OSS licenses, it is required to give credit to the original code writer where credit is due. This is done in order to recognize the intellectual property of the original coder. Of course, anything can be abused. That’s part of freedom.

    You will probably now say that the government would simply be preventing the abuse of the system. You would be wrong. If there’s anything you learn as you watch the federal government, it’s that it rarely does anything right. On those rare occasions when it does, come back in a year and it will have entirely screwed it up. The government is, as I write, destroying the economy, ending the American free-market system, and encroaching on personal liberty in numerous areas (even outside of business). Why would I ever want said government to further screw up the copyright system? If you get congress to re-write copyright law, I think you’ll be surprised by the result.

    If you want to cause a change in the way software is produced and licensed, there are ways of doing it without going to the government. None of them are easy, and none of them are likely to achieve absolute success. However, it is my firm belief that almost all of them would be better than getting the government involved.

    • “Firstly, it’s historical fact that copyright laws have caused an influx of inventive, scientific minds to the United States. … many inventions and developments are themselves reliant on previous inventions and developments…”

      I never said copyright didn’t help in the past. The past does not necessarily imply the future though (like I mentioned, never in the history of copyright did regulations affect everyone, everyday — there has been a fundamental shift).

      But, there are many historical facts that suggest the opposite too. The US didn’t recognize foreign copyright at first, actively encouraging American authors to use the works of foreign authors. That was to stimulate innovation and creation. Walt Disney is the token example of innovation through appropriation. Hollywood was built on piracy. It’s precisely because many innovations and based on innovations of the past that copyright law can restrict that innovation by imposing a culture of permission and tolls, excluding those who can’t afford to hire a legal team and negotiate licences.

      “As many inventions and developments are themselves reliant on previous inventions and developments, it is indeed very likely that copyright laws are, to some degree, responsible for inventions such as the internet.”

      A lack of ownership played a key role in the adoption, spread and further innovation surrounding the internet. If Berners-Lee asserted ownership over the web, it wouldn’t have spread and lead to all the innovation we’ve seen on top of it. AOL was the flagship example of a proprietary web — how’d they do?

      The moral of the copyright history, if anything, is that sometimes copyright supports innovation, and sometimes it gets the way. To claim that no one would innovate without copyright is insane.

      “Copyrights protect intellectual property.”

      “Intellectual property” is a misnomer. It groups together completely separate areas of law, like patent and copyright, and even more separate areas like trademark law. It assumes what needs to be proven, that ideas should be treated as property in the first place. It implies a similarity to physical property which is simply mythical in the law — “intellectual property” rights function nothing like other property rights.

      I’d recommend steering clear of the term if you want to avoid confusion.

      “If I write a paper, and then you copy the paper for your own purposes without giving due credit, you are committing theft.”

      That is absolutely not theft. In fact, it’s probably not even copyright infringement to copy for personal use. That’s plagiarism, which isn’t even illegal, just dishonest.

      You’re confusing totally separate things.

      Plagiarism is academic misconduct (e.g. failing to properly cite a source). Copyright infringement is a violation of one of the exclusive rights granted through copyright legislation. Theft involves removing ownership of a good from its owner.

      If I plagiarize on infringe your paper, you still have it. If I steal your paper, you don’t.

      I challenge you to find the words “theft,” “stealing” or “larceny” (or any synonyms) in any copyright legislation. Copyright violations are copyright infringement, not theft.

      If copyright infringement is theft, how do you explain fair use?

      “Of course, authors also have the right to further protect their content.”

      Actually, authors don’t have the unconditional right to further protect their content. If I properly attribute sources, and don’t reproduce substantial portions of a text (i.e. your whole paper or most of it), I can cite and quote it all I want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

      Actually, if I parody your work or am critical of it, I could probably get away with citing nearly the entire thing under the fair use exemption in the law. Copyright law would offer you any “protection.”

      There is no absolute control. (Another reason why “intellectual property” is not like other property at all.)

      “Is code really so different? You are correct to say that computer code is essentially just math.”

      Ok, now you’re confusing copyright and patent law. (Another reason not to use the term IP.) It’s irrelevant that software is functional math for the purposes of copyright. Copyright is about the expression of an idea. That’s analogous to an essay on a mathematical concept, not the mathematical concept itself. Patents cover the actual ideas and implementation, which would be the usage of the actual algorithms.

      Two completely separate and disjoint areas of law.

      “However, a work of literary art is nothing more or less than a combination of fundamental letters and characters.”

      I’ve already identified your confusion here, but to extend the analog… If patents applied to literary works, they’d be over letters and words (e.g. “What?! You said ‘monopoly?’ But that’s my word, you need my permission to use it!”). If patents applied to music, they’d be over notes, not songs.

      Copyright applies to the expression of these things however. That affects software, music and literary works. But patents were also extended to software through Supreme Court rulings. That’s a mistake, but for completely and utterly separate reasons than those which make copyright on tools is problematic.

      It’s that software is a functional work that makes it problematic for software (or recipes or textbooks, for that matter). Software is a tool. Copyright on tools affects our freedom of use. Would it be “stealing” to buy a hammer from Jake’s Hardware, but use it with nails from Mac’s Hardware? Would it be “theft” to reupholster a chair from Ikea? If hammers or chairs were covered by copyright, the copyright holder could restrict your use in such a way.

      That’s what happens with software.

      “Open source software makes extensive use of copyrights.”

      Yes, to reverse the effect of it. Hence, “copyleft.” It’s a jujitsu tactic, not a true dependency.

      “You’ll note that, on many OSS licenses, it is required to give credit to the original code writer where credit is due.”

      Actually, those licenses are shunned as “badgeware.” Can you name a popular software license that requires attribution? Attribution is a much more common requirement for cultural works (e.g. Creative Commons).

      “You will probably now say that the government would simply be preventing the abuse of the system. You would be wrong.”

      Definitely not my response.

      “If there’s anything you learn as you watch the federal government, it’s that it rarely does anything right. On those rare occasions when it does, come back in a year and it will have entirely screwed it up. The government is, as I write, destroying the economy, ending the American free-market system, and encroaching on personal liberty in numerous areas (even outside of business). Why would I ever want said government to further screw up the copyright system? If you get congress to re-write copyright law, I think you’ll be surprised by the result.”

      You realize that the copyright system is a government system, imposed on the free market to regulate commerce and the economy and personal liberty… right? Copyright is government intervention. “Intellectual property” is based on artificial, government granted monopolies. That doesn’t mean copyright is bad, but it’s certainly not a free market mechanism; it’s the very sort of government system to which you seem so adverse.

      Unless.. you’re trying to say that copyright is screwed up enough already, and we shouldn’t encourage the government to touch it and screw it up any further? I might actually agree with you there, except that more copyright legislation is inevitable. Large corporations who rely on failing business models based on copyright and outdated models of distribution lobby the government hard for “increased protection of their intellectual property.” That’s how the DMCA came about. Copyright law will get screwed up more without efforts to steer it in the right direction. The government will change copyright law again. We are responsible to do what we can to make sure that change is for the better.

      In the meantime, sure, I’m not holding my breath waiting for a change. I’m choosing free licences and free content and free software to change the way that software nad cultural works are produced regardless of the state of current copyright law. I think we do agree there.

  7. Copyrights, patents, and all related protection of content is, in normal conversation, lumped together under the term “copyright”. At least that has been my experience. I’m sorry my use of this confused you. While the laws concerning each vary, they all protect what is considered to be “IP”, which makes them categorically similar. I’m sorry for my lack of precision in word choice, but I had only intended to refer to the issue as protection of IP, not a dissection of individual federal laws.

    You may very well be correct in saying property is never mentioned in copyright/patent laws. I have not personally read them in detail. However, such laws, in effect, extend the definition of property to intellectual “products” (ideas, inventions, etc.) by allowing the original producers of said products (inventors, engineers, etc.) to have what you refer to as a temporary monopoly on their ideas. This is one of the many, MANY cases in legislation that the effect of the bill expands greatly upon the technical language. Through legislation and court decisions, the definition of property has been effectively extended to the realm of ideas, thus causing people to refer to such property as “intellectual property”. Personally, I’m not seeing the confusion here. Intellectual property is not physical property. However, the English language in general relies heavily on word context in order to determine definition. In “intellectual property”, the fact that the word “intellectual” is used in context means that the definition of “property” is not conventional. What can I say, it’s a screwed up language.

    As for code licenses, it is common for web-oriented code (particularly javascript) to have licenses requiring proper credit. As most of my programming experience comes from the web, I am unfamiliar with common desktop-programming licenses.

    I believe that intellectual property should be recognized, though I would agree that it is different than physical property. After all, an idea is different than an object. It only makes sense that they be treated differently. However, one cannot say that the fact that ideas are inherently non-physical precludes the possibility for any form of ownership. An identity, in the modern context, is inherently non-physical. However, it can non-the-less be “stolen”, even though its theft does not remove it from its owner. This is where we seem to fundamentally differ. You do not believe that ideas can be property in any form. I do.

    As for proprietary software being a failing business model, it is far from failing. On the proprietary side, you have M$, Google, Yahoo, Adobe, Apple, and many others. On the OSS side, you have Mozilla, Red Hat, and…well…the list gets much less impressive from there. The fact is, the five corporations who get their money from proprietary software are probably the five biggest names in web and desktop software. The two most notable companies (that I can think of, anyway) that use open-source licenses, while they do make money, are far from being economic powerhouses. OSS, while it can be a viable business model, has hardly proven itself as a truly lucrative business.

    As for the government, I think the best bet is to fight current legislation, not present new legislation (what this post seems to infer). While the government is being, and will continue to be, pushed by corporation towards more copyright and IP legislation, I would rather fight and stop said legislation that propose more. The more the government re-writes the law, the more it’s likely to get things wrong. So, I would simply try to stop it from re-writing the law.

    I too tend to choose free licenses when I have options. Unfortunately, freely licensed software doesn’t always present a viable alternative to its proprietary counterpart.

    • “Copyrights, patents, and all related protection of content is, in normal conversation, lumped together under the term “copyright”.”

      Eek. Really? Well, I understand how people get them mixed up, but that’s a very dangerous mistake to make. I mean, I often here people lump things together under the umbrella of “IP,” but to call it all “copyright” is much, much worse. Even IP is a really bad grouping though. There is no real similarity other than the false category, as they are totally separate areas of law with different scopes, different effects. I’d recommend against using the term like that (here’s why).

      “However, such laws, in effect, extend the definition of property to intellectual “products” (ideas, inventions, etc.) by allowing the original producers of said products (inventors, engineers, etc.) to have what you refer to as a temporary monopoly on their ideas.”

      Not true at all. Property is not a temporary monopoly. There are so many ways in which property laws are categorically distinct from “intellectual property” laws.

      Perpetual rights: there are no perpetual rights with physical property. Once I sell you some physical good, it is your property, not mine, and I can no longer tell you what to do with it because I no longer have any claim on it. If I sell you a chair, I have no control over what you do with that chair once you buy it from me. Yet, if I sell you a CD that contains music under copyright, copyright law allows me to control some of the things you do with it, even after you own the physical good. Temporary monopolies are a difference between property and things like copyrights and patents. There’s a huge difference between an owner (the person who owns a CD) and a copyright holder (the person or entity that controls the rights of the songs on a CD).

      If copyrights were like real property, you would lose your claims over a thing once you sell it to me.

      Exceptions: If you believe that a copyright is a form of property, how do you explain fair use or the public domain?

      In other words, how do you explain exceptions to copyright law? If you own a sandwich, there are no exceptions to that property claim. I can’t take it from you without your permission under any circumstances. If I were to take a bite, there’s no “fair use” defence. And there’s no point at which your sandwich enters into the public domain and you lose your property claims. Yet, with copyright law, there’s a whole category of uses to which you have no control over — fair use allows me to parody your work whether or not you approve of it.

      How can you say that copyright is a form of property when the owners of a good are not the copyright holders? Clearly, this is a distinct concept of ownership.

      There is much more that is different than the same. I think this is an even worse confusion of employing the misnomer of “intellectual property,” and I’d suggest avoiding it for the sake of clarity and consistency.

      “Through legislation and court decisions, the definition of property has been effectively extended to the realm of ideas, thus causing people to refer to such property as “intellectual property”.”

      The problem is that no legislation or court decisions recognize what you just said. Can you find me some that suggest that copyrights or patents or are a form of property? The only time the word appears is when employ the misnomer “intellectual property.”

      I’m saying, the term “intellectual property” is misleading, and you’re saying, “no, it’s not, because these things are a form of property because they’re called intellectual property.” I’m saying that we shouldn’t refer to them as intellectual property, because that implies all sorts of similarities to real property that are patently (pun intended) false. It’s a disservice to any conversation to make this confusion. Real property and so-called intellectual property are totally distinct things.

      I’d love to see the court decisions or legislation that suggest otherwise.

      (Here’s an example of one that suggests the opposite of what you said: )

      “In “intellectual property”, the fact that the word “intellectual” is used in context means that the definition of “property” is not conventional. What can I say, it’s a screwed up language.”

      I see what you’re saying, but the problem is that using the term “intellectual property” assumes what needs to be a subject of discussion — that ideas should be treated like a form of property to begin with. It implies links to the concept of property that simply don’t exist.

      A limited, temporary monopoly is not a form of property. It’s a monopoly.

      “As for code licenses, it is common for web-oriented code (particularly javascript) to have licenses requiring proper credit.”

      Ah, okay, you’re talking about scripts. Yeah, that’s common. But most free or open source software doesn’t have that requirement. I was referring to the list of approved licences from the OSI or the FSF

      “One cannot say that the fact that ideas are inherently non-physical precludes the possibility for any form of ownership.”

      Again, the “owner” of a good is distinct from the copyright holder. Another reason why the term “intellectual property” leads to all sorts of confusing statements.

      “However, it can non-the-less be “stolen”, even though its theft does not remove it from its owner.”

      How do you define stealing?!

      “You do not believe that ideas can be property in any form. I do.”

      No, I never said that I don’t think ideas should be treated like property. I said that the US constitution allows that, but only “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” Therefore, I believe that the question of whether or not ideas should be treated like property in any particular case depends on whether that would “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.”

      So, I don’t think that musicians should be able to patent combinations of notes or chords (there’s no such thing as a musical patent). That would be insane. Copyrights, on the other hand, seem reasonable in some situations for some length of time, but there are times when that can still be problematic.

      I’d describe our difference this way: you seem to think that ideas certainly should be treated as a form of property, and that “protection” is a good thing. I think that whether or not they should is entirely dependent on whether or not that would promote progress (which is what the constitution says).

      And, I would back up my position with a quote from Thomas Jefferson as he and James Madison were trying to determine the constitutional wording of that “promote the progress” section:

      “Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”

      “As for proprietary software being a failing business model, it is far from failing.”

      Sorry, I wasn’t being clear there. Proprietary software business models aren’t failing yet (even though they’re being challenged by free software). I was referring more to the cultural realm, where business models based on enforcing copyright law and selling copies of songs and movies are seriously failing. Software is a bit more confusing to copy (though you can’t deny that those proprietary companies view unauthorized copying as a huge problem, even if they’re still turning a profit).

      “On the proprietary side, you have M$, Google, Yahoo, Adobe, Apple, and many others. On the OSS side, you have Mozilla, Red Hat, and…well…the list gets much less impressive from there.”

      Would you call Google a proprietary software company? They’re flagship products are proprietary, but I’m being paid by Google at the moment to write open source code, and huge new products like Google Android and Google Wave are open source. I’d say, in many respects, Google is an example of an open source company. Even for their proprietary software (search, Gmail), they don’t make money by selling copies; it’s still free as in price, if not as in freedom. Google makes money off ads, not by selling copies of software.

      And you missed some huge open source names — Novell, IBM. Even Oracle has huge open source assets now — Unbreakable Linux, Java, MySQL, OpenOffice.org… Apple actually holds the copyright for the open source printing system, CUPS, and Yahoo! is also a big supporter and user of open source software.

      Proprietary business models are still profitable, but these companies are increasingly turning to free software.

      “As for the government, I think the best bet is to fight current legislation, not present new legislation (what this post seems to infer).”

      Hmm, I think I agree with you here for the most part. It’s best to stop more bad legislation from being introduced, but I don’t think that any free software efforts should be dependent on the government changing the law. There is something quite libertarian about the approach of the free software movement.

      But, I don’t think I agree with that statement unconditionally. Certain laws are harmful and ought to be repealed, like many components of the DMCA (e.g. anti-circumvention provisions which make it illegal to watch a DVD in the US using free software). Also, as a Canadian, our copyright law does need to be updated, as simple things like time-shifting television are still a grey area in our out-dated legislation. In a Canadian context, everyone agrees that the law needs to be updated to account for new technology, but there’s a serious debate to be had over what that update should look like. That’s not to say that it’s reasonable to expect any major reforms in copyright law, but there are certain approaches that would be huge improvements over the DMCA and steps in the right direction that we ought to fight for.

      “I too tend to choose free licenses when I have options. Unfortunately, freely licensed software doesn’t always present a viable alternative to its proprietary counterpart.”

      Yeah, it’s very hard to go 100% free software, but I will choose free software in almost every circumstance. If I’m not using free software, I’m working toward it (e.g. currently replacing my palm pilot with other tools) or waiting for an alternative to improve (e.g. I tried using Gnash instead of flash for a few months, but it was tough… might try again later, but I’m also ready to adopt HTML5 for my own web development in a heartbeat). For me, I consider proprietary software unacceptable, and it would take quite a bit to have me rely on it.

  8. For the most part, this seems to be a discussion of semantics and words definitions. Sorry, but I’m not patient enough to sit here and define all of the terms for you. Every time I have tried to give a solid definition, you seem to want more terms to be defined. I apologize, but I’m not going to debate endlessly on word definitions.

    As for your point that ideas should be protected when they promote progress, I would contend that this is simple use of ends to justify means. Such logic is dangerous in any society, field, or market, and with any level of usage. Who decides what promotes progress or stimulates innovation? Who decides whether or not protecting an idea as property would be beneficial to society? Whoever does would have vast and undeniable power to affect and control markets. If you start throwing in highly subjective criteria for the approval of copyrights, patents, and other forms of “IP” protection, you will begin to see massive government abuse…as if the government wasn’t already messed up enough. While the language of the constitution seems to lead to this form of subjective judgement, I think it is best that we avoid subjective criteria. This is one of the very few points at which I disagree with the constitution.


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